In August 1947, Mary Brock boarded a train in Toronto. She was headed for the wilds of Northwestern Ontario and a teaching job at an Indian residential school. Her family was horrified.
At the end of her first day of teaching, Mary was horrified too. This was not the exciting adventure she had imagined. But Mary wasn’t one to give up. Buoyed by her ideals and her pragmatism, she kept showing up.
She lasted the academic year. When she boarded the train for home, she knew she had failed – in every way that mattered. The ideals she had come with had shattered on her
classroom floor, and a big piece of her heart lay buried behind a small log cabin in the woods.
Sixty years later, two unexpected gifts forced her to take a second look back and a more hopeful look forward. Maybe her ideals weren’t so naïve after all.
My interest in Indigenous people living in Canada was sparked in 1959 when I was seven and two Anishinaabe boys joined our family. With their arrival, stories of tricksters
and turtles joined Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh at bedtime. My father was determined that my brothers would grow up aware of, and proud of their heritage.
The white Toronto of our youth made it impossible for them not to be aware of their heritage, proud wasn’t so easy. While I wasn’t involved in the fights and for the most part I didn’t hear the insults, I knew it was there, and growing up alongside this reality shaped me too.
After graduating from university, I spent a good part of the next thirty years overseas, following a wandering husband and teaching in international schools. My teaching career began in Whitehorse, and I went on to teach in Malaysia, Egypt, Nicaragua, Cyprus and Ecuador.
During that time, my husband and I also started a family, and our three children spent most of their growing up outside Canada. Raising children in countries where the dominant culture is not my own, has taught me the value of a home and native land, along with an understanding of the subjective nature of the standards we take for granted.
My writing began as a child, when I wrote plays under the sheets with a flashlight after lights out. It continued in journals and diaries and angst-filled teenage poems, all kept carefully hidden away. My first attempts at putting anything out into the public realm wasn’t until I was in my fifties and I took a print journalism course at Algonquin College. But it was a memoir writing workshop for retirees at Carleton University that sparked a need to write and resulted in the formation of a writing group which is still a vital part of my life, ten years on.
I spent seven years writing this book. It went through many different incarnations, and I learned much along the way. Sitting face to face with people who had been to residential school, hearing them relate their stories and being witness to the anguish that continues to overwhelm them, touched me deeply. It also forced me to look into my own feelings about Canada’s history and my place in it. At times, simply being white made me feel deeply ashamed.
But Canada, and Canadians, have been given a unique opportunity to make a difference. TheTruth and Reconciliation Commission recognized that while the past cannot be changed, the future can. They have provided us with a list of 94 concrete things we can do to make a difference.
While most of the items on the list call on some government entity to take action, many can be undertaken by anyone with the will to do it.
Recommendation number 83 says; We call upon the Canada Council for the Arts to establish, as a funding priority, a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.
This book, while it was a penned by a non-Indigenous person, is most certainly a collaboration, and my small contribution to the reconciliation process.
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The resources listed here are a partial list of those materials with which I am familiar. They include books, websites and films for those who want to learn more about the residential school system and its effects. Any internet search will provide you with many more options. I have not included resources for those who have been affected by residential schools.
Languedoc, David. Incorrigible. Victoria, Friesen Press, 2015
McCue, Duncan. The Shoe Boy, A trapline memoir. Nonvella Publishing, Inc., 2016
Haig-Brown, Celia. Resistance and Renewal. Vancouver, Arsenal Pulp Press, 1988
Sterling, Shirley. My Name is Seepeetza. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1992
Kaefer, Florence and Gamblin, Edward. Back to the Red Road. Halfmoon Bay, Caitlin Press, 2014
Fontaine, Theodore. Broken Circle. Toronto, Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd., 2010
Sellers, Bev. They Called me Number One. Vancouver, Talon Books, 2013
Metatwabin, Edmund. Up Ghost River. Toronto, Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014
Wagamese, Richard. One Native Life. Madeira Park, Douglas and McIntyre, 2008
Kinew, Wab. The Reason You Walk. Toronto, Viking 2015
De Chavigny, Caroline, When Angels Die. Houston, Banney House Publications, 1996
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. A Knock on the Door. Winnipeg, University of Manitoba Press, 2016
Milloy, John. A National Crime. Winnipeg, The University of Manitoba Press, 1999
Miller, J.R.. Shingwauk’s Vision, A History of Native Residential Schools. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1997
Ross, Rupert. Dancing with a Ghost. Toronto, Penguin Canada, 1992
Ross, Rupert. Returning to the Teachings. Toronto, Penguin Canada,1996
Ross, Rupert. Indigenous Healing. Toronto, Penguin Canada, 2014
Saul, John Ralston. A Fair Country. Toronto, Penguin Canada, 2008
Regan, Paulette. Unsettling the Settler Within. Vancouver, UBC Press, 2010
Loyie, Larry. Residential Schools. Brantford, Indigenous Education Press, 2014
Talaga, Tanya. Seven Fallen Feathers. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 2017
Wagamese, Richard. Indian Horse. Vancouver, Douglas and McIntyre, 2012
Archer, Lynda. Tears in the Grass, Toronto, Dundurn, 2016
Kinsella, W.P.. Dance Me Outside. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1977
Vermette, Katherena. The Break. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 2016
Maracle, Lee. Celia’s Song. Toronto, Cormorant Books, 2015
Robinson, Eden. Son of a Trickster, Toronto, Alfred A. Knopf, 2017
Bartleman, James. As Long as the Rivers Flow. Toronto, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
National Film Board of Canada. (2012). We were Children
Leckie, Mary Young. (producer). (1989). Where the Spirit Lives
CBC Arts. (2016). The Secret Path
Clint Eastwood. (producer) (2017). Indian Horse